Tag Archives: Movie

Movie Review: Rogue One

Movie Review: Rogue One

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Rogue One is much better than the previous Star Wars installment, “The Force Awakens” by J.J. Abrams. The Rogue One script is first rate, telling how Princess Leia’s came to be in possession of the schematics for The Death Star, the information she embedded in R2D2, forty years ago..

In that movie, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker were untouched by thousands of rounds sent their way. We all saw the excessive shooting in The Matrix, and Rogue One brings it to where it should be. Hundreds of thousands of rounds whizz by, but in Rogue One our people are not mysteriously shielded from harm. It is much more realistic about the real toll, physical and spiritual, of war.

The image above shows the small band of renegades at the heart of the action and I was impressed by the performances. Diego Luna as Cassian was especially compelling. There is a line where Cassian talks, with great pain, about how each of the men regrets the betrayals and killings in the name of the rebellion, and yet they are unwilling to let go of the cause. In an argument with the heroine, Cassian shuts it down with a quiet, chilling warning on a par with the line from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “We don’t need no stinking badges.” Bravo!

I have been a fan of Ben Mendelsohn since “Bloodline” where he plays a brilliant, self-destructive brother in a wealthy, irrational family. I thought he was miscast in this, and he had not mastered how to wear a cape with the panache and intimidation of Darth Vader. Ben’s voice lacks the gravitas to compete with the elocution of the Imperial brass. Too bad, I usually like his work.

I found the movie to be very satisfying. Recommended.

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Animated Film: Song of the Sea

Song of the Sea movieI love the Irish art from the animators of The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea is their latest release. I am a fan of John Sayles’s 1994 movie, “The Secret of Roan Inish,” about the Irish legend of a Selkie, seal-like creature that can shed its skin and live for a time as a woman. I am fascinated by the assumptions in Irish stories because it helps me understand some of the assumptions I make about life.

The two kids and dog pictured left live with their father in a remote lighthouse on the roaring Atlantic shore of the island. The mother has disappeared and no one is talking. Even the little six-year-old girl, Saoirse, doesn’t speak. No one mentions that Selkies can’t speak without their seal skin. The only connection the family has to other people is that the father goes to the mainland to visit the pub when his mother comes to visit the children. There is almost no adult conversation in these children’s lives, and no recourse when adults make bad decisions.

So, we have three elements of Irish culture:

  1. Isolation
  2. Not talking about losses as large as a missing mother
  3. Going to the pub for companionship and emotional relief

Things get worse, the grandmother comes to take the children to the mainland, but she won’t take the dog. The kids make their break on Hallowe’en, when all the goblins are out, including the evil owls that do the dirty work of Macha pronounced Maka. When Macha gets hold of the kids and the dog, lo and behold, she looks a great deal like the grandmother.

Macha wants to ease their pain and loneliness by turning their emotions to stone, as she did for her son, the giant stone near their light house. Her son was so sad he cried an ocean of tears, and to take away his pain she turned him, and his emotions, to stone. The emotions are now rocks with magical markings, and some are captured in unbreakable jars. So, more Irish culture:

  1. The way out of pain is to turn to stone
  2. It is good to help someone to turn their emotions to stone
  3. This change a permanent

In order to make his own life easier, the father has made bad decisions with dangerous consequences for his children. The boy, Ben, risks everything to save his sister Saorise (pronounced like the color Cerise).

The movie, and the legend, seem to teach that the right thing for children to do is to give up their lives for others. To accept without question that their mother has disappeared and their father cannot made good decisions, cannot take care of them, and doesn’t have to answer urgent questions.

But wait, it gets worse! And the very end, the little girl is forced to make a choice that no six-year-old should face. She has to choose between being true to herself and embracing the adventure of her true nature by joining her mother, or she can choose to take care of her weeping father and brother. And guess what she chooses?!

That’s right… she chooses to take care of her father and brother because her mother CAN’T. And her mother disappears again, this time forever. So the little girl will now spend the next 10 years taking care of these men, and trying to push out of her mind her brief connection to her mother. She has learned to put herself last.

And that’s how co-dependents are created. This is the mythology of my culture. These are the stories we tell the children.

Nathaniel Branden said, “We live our lives according to what we believe.”

Maybe it is time for my barbarian culture to evolve. Maybe it is time to develop some healthier traditions, including telling the truth to the children. And wouldn’t it be grand if parents could actually take care of themselves and take care their children? Not the other way around…

Divergent: Young Adult Fiction

Divergent: Young Adult Fiction

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My friend Beth loved the “Divergent” trilogy of Young Adult dystopian-future science-fiction novels with a 15-year-old heroine. They are being made into movies and the second installment, “Insurgent,” is due out on March 20, so I read the first book, “Divergent” and watched the movie on HBO.

I am fascinated how our mythology teaches young adults how to act in the face of danger, and how to be courageous and to take charge of their own lives and safety. Beatrice grows up in the Abnegation faction, which is like a clan, where selflessness is paramount.

At 15, everyone in her society chooses the clan where they will spend the rest of their lives. Beatrice truncates her name to Tris and leaps into the Dauntless clan, where bravery is prized. Tris must fight for her own life and the lives of those she loves.

The message of Divergent is similar to the indoctrination I received:

  1. I am on my own, no one will help me
  2. Trust no one
  3. Be selfless (like Abnegation)
  4. Be brave (like Dauntless)

“I have a theory that selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.”
— Tris in Divergent by Veronica Roth

Tris starts to realize that the differences between the clan of her birth and the clan of her choice may vanishingly small, and that treachery may lie beneath the efforts of others to pit the two clans against each other. Now that I have lived so many years trying to be a hero and a savior, I am starting to realize that this loyalty/bravery/sacrifice indoctrination may serve others who do not have my best interests at heart. It may actually serve those in power, at my expense. What would REALLY benefit women and children is working together. But in this book, ambitious and resourceful youngsters are pitted against other, with the top performers being destroyed by the second best.

Maybe we could evolve into something that works better. Let’s find out What Self-Loving People Do Differently. Could this strategy lead to young people working together instead of ruthlessly competing against each other?

  1. They welcome all their emotions, including the difficult ones
  2. They learn to be self-responsible rather than blaming others
  3. They feed their inner hunger for novelty with creative pursuits rather than drugs
  4. They embrace mistakes as an important way to learn, and refuse to be shamed for trying

I don’t think I will read the second book, even though my friend Beth said it was her favorite of the three. I understand the philosophy. I look forward to watching the Insurgent movie when it comes out.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel

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Before Anna Wintour and “The Devil Wears Prada” there was Diana Vreeland, Editor in Chief of Vogue. Both Anna and Diana were brilliant tyrants in the Steve Jobs vein. Her granddaughter produced and edited “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel” based on the audio tapes of interviews with George Plimpton who ghosted her memoir “D.V.” She included very interesting interviews with Diana’s (pronounced deeAHNa) two sons who admired her sense of style but not her mothering skills.

The movie had all the 60’s models I idolized: Jean Shrimpton (pictured), Twiggy, Verushka, Penolope Tree, Lauren Hutton and the photographers: Avedon, David Bailey. Interviews with the designers: Mahnolo Blahnick, Oscar de la Renda, Carolina Herrera. The celebrities: Jackie Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, Angelica Huston, Warren Beatty… TV interview clips with youthful Dick Cavett, Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley.

I read the magazine cover to cover nearly every month. I remember many of the photo spreads and covers. It became part of my values of glamor, personal style and the illusion of beauty. I most admired Jean Shrimpton and based my look on this image from 1965, my first year of college in New York City.

D.V. believed that we must “invent” our lives, and travel to exciting places provided the background for the most spectacular photo shoots. The eye must travel.

Margin Call Absorbing

Margin Call Absorbing

First-Time director J.C. Chandoor, who also wrote “Margin Call”, somehow gets us to see the human side of the bankers that brought the world economy to its knees. If you understand that things are only worth what you can sell them for, and that the investment banks held certain “tranches” on the synthetics they were selling, you will quickly grasp how the math model projections stumbled upon by the junior risk manager portend the end of the financial markets as we know them.

How could we ever care about the fates of these greedy men, much less sympathize with them. They wiped out our retirements funds, and yet, at the end, we see what drove them. Some were venal, some were greedy, some were desperate and some were just resigned to their fate. What is stunning is that the caliber of acting draws us in and makes us care about these men.

Demi Moore, whose real name is Demetria, looks more Russian than ever. Deep fear flickers in her eyes behind the hostility of a wolverine defending her economic projections. When she faces off against Jeremy Irons, it is like watching smooth poison being spread before her.

The movie belongs to Kevin Spacey, however. Chandor’s savvy direction gives him a chance to show the conflicting emotions playing out as he tries to prevent the implosion of the company where he has spent his career. He wants to protect the young brokers working for him, he wants to protect the clients of the firm, but most of all, he wants to protect himself. Do we care? Yes, because of a brilliant performance by Spacey, which barely stands out in a stellar cast including smooth, charming, brilliant and ruthless Jeremy Irons as the guy who has to make the decision on when to pull the trigger and where to aim the gun.

It is playing in Santa Rosa at the Summerfield Theater and I hear it is available on streaming TV. Worth a watch.Simon Baker in Margin Call

Margin Call Movie

Margin Call is Absorbing

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

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Howard and I both recommend “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” — exciting and well made. Muir Woods is a location and the Golden Gate Bridge and its fog is practically a character. Don’t be late — it gets off to a fast start and packs in a lot of back story in the first few minutes. Don’t leave when the end credits start to roll… The set-up for the sequel starts after the first few credits. The nasty neighbor (played by Stargate’s neurotic nerd Rodney) goes back to work after his chimp-inflicted injury. Keep in mind that earlier in the movie we saw the lift-off for the manned Mars mission in the background. I predict that Charleston Heston was one of the astronauts on that mission. LOL!

Movie Rave: Inception

Movie Rave: Inception

On Saturday I went to see “Inception” on the biggest screen in Santa Rosa. On Sunday I went back to see it again. As the NYTimes says, it lives up to its hype. If you liked The Matrix and The Bourne Identity, you will like Inception. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to stop reading here.

The NYTimes considered it a heist movie “one last big job,” but it is also a psychological thriller. When a wife commits suicide, the widower is burdened with guilt. The projection of his guilt invades his dreams and kills people there. But this team works in dreamspace. The projection sabotages the widower, just as guilt sabotages a life.

I thought the casting was good, but I would have made one change. As much as I loved Ellen Page in “Juno,” and I suspect that they need a very small woman to make Leonardo DiCaprio look tall, I think a better choice for Ariadne would have been Anna Kendrick from “Up in the Air” and “Twilight Saga.” The tightly-wound Anna would be an interesting counterpoint to the elegant, troubled Marion Cotillard.

I predict that this is the first of a trilogy from the immensely talented Christopher Nolan. I think the final shot of the spinning totem will be the opener of the second installment. The totem will topple and stop, reassuring us we are in normal reality. The kids will be slightly older, and Tom Cobb will learn just what a bad idea this inception was. Saito wants the energy company broken up because he cannot compete with their new system. The vertically-integrated power company that Maurice Fischer built has developed a breakthrough technology that can save the planet from global warming with cheap, plentiful, non-polluting energy.

But if Fischer’s company is broken up, the economies of scale are lost and the investment in the new technology becomes unviable. Saito holds on to his market share and the planet just gets hotter and dirtier. Cobb must undo the idea they so carefully planted to save the planet. Can he “unplant” the suicidal ideal in his wife’s mind, too? Is he falling in love with Ariadne? He can’t have both, which one will he give up?

And how is Robert Fischer, Jr. the son of Maurice? How can he be a junior if his father’s name is Maurice? Does he think that “Uncle Pete” Browning betrayed him, or betrayed his father? Has the power of attorney been appropriately transferred? There is a scene in the first movie that indicates that the legal matters of transition and succession in the Fischer corporation have not been completely taken care of.

I am very pleased to see that this movie had a great opening weekend. I look forward to seeing what Christopher Nolan has in store for us next.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

According to Wikipedia, this movie was released in the U.S. as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but the original title was (in Swedish: Män som hatar kvinnor) “Men Who Hate Women.” It is the first of a movie trilogy based on the award-winning crime novels by the late Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson.  The three movies were big hits in Scandanavia and Europe.  The books are called the “Millennium Trilogy.”

It has been running for six weeks here in Santa Rosa, and when we went, the theater was full, mostly with people 40+. In an interview on PBS, the director of the movie said that the American marketing people thought that the original Swedish title was too tough for English-speaking audiences, but the original title is accurate. The movie is grisly without being titillating. It is absorbing and gripping, and (because it is part of a trilogy) it doesn’t leave you with all the answers neatly wrapped up.

It reminded me of the French movie “La Femme Nikita” in which a street urchin was trained to be an assassin and one of her teachers, Jeanne Moreau, showed her how to act like a lady. In the American remake, Bridget Fonda was tutored in loveliness by Ann Bancroft. This Swedish movie is just as tough and just as riveting. In the PBS interview, the director said that there was some talk in the US of remaking the movie in Hollywood.  I am sure they would take the sharp edges off it and make it ordinary.

I am looking forward to the next Swedish installment!